Two articles I read at the beginning and the end of the past two weeks rubbed me both good and bad, made me both glad and sad. In the middle of an eternal flight across the Pacific and the Atlantic, I read a TIME Magazine review by Lev Grossman of a book by Dave Eggers titled ‘The Circle.’
Headlined ‘Net Loss,’ the review is about how our perceived need to keep up with the social media age can so easily turn us into Net Zombies. Grossman shows how, in our zeal to become Global Netizens, many of us end up being permanently plugged—through microphones, earphones and touch phones—into the global stratosphere dominated by Google, Facebook and Twitter.
The writer notes that in the plugged-in world painted by Eggers, you become part of a global network in which you are “criticized if you don’t post, comment or tweet enough”; you “spend nights going through drifts of emails, posts and zings,” and “days sleepwalking through real life, with one eye permanently on your phone . . .”
You can also end up “wearing a bracelet that tracks and broadcasts your vital signs” and “a headset through which you ceaselessly respond” to other Netizens’ requests from far and wide to share information on everyone else you’re also plugged into. In that world, your devices become extensions of you that tell you who you are and what you like most—even before you know it.
At home, a fortnight later, I read a muse in this week’s STAR about the importance of reading. It reminded me of growing up with my father daily reminding me that “reading makes the man.” As I grew older, he reminded me that “reading makes you free”—and that I well know now. The writer underscored the importance of being “well read” but also noted that so being didn’t automatically make you smart.
The article—meant to muse—sounded like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe wondering why Trinidadians still sing The Mighty Sparrow’s classic, “Congo Man.” Miss Friend emailed to ask whether I’d read it and whether I’d write or comment on it. She accused the writer of “peeing on us from up high with his observation that some of our lawyers and doctors can’t read; and how our intelligent men only want to give White women ‘wood’.” From her vantage, the writer was “just like Rick Wayne, who said the other day that the only place you can find St. Lucia’s best brains is in a rum shop.”
I told her I didn’t see it her way, that in this day and age when West Indians are seeking Reparations for Slavery, I didn’t feel we had to be apologetic for growing-up in a society that’s semi-literate and subliminally bilingual; and that we shouldn’t want to become the cannibals they say we came from every time a White man says something niggardly about us.
Miss Friend didn’t agree with me. But our exchange (it went on for half-an-hour on the phone) left me again wondering about the value of reading to those of us who write and talk in the national media. I spend an average of 14 to 16 hours per day on my computer, reading, writing, commenting, analyzing and all those other things full time journalists do. I’ve never even given thought to making time to read a book a week, far less 52 per year. But every day I read something about what makes our world turn and our country tick. I haven’t read a piece of a fraction of what other writers may have, but I don’t think there’s a topic in this world that I can’t talk about.
As a talk-show host here and abroad, I refused to say “I don’t know . . .” Instead, I’d say, “Let me find out and get back to you . . .” But I don’t get the impression that enough of those of us who lead national debates and formulate public opinion here today read enough to be able to handle most queries from inquiring minds. I listen and watch, read and hear the best we have to offer and I wonder whether we know what we have.
We continue to accentuate the negative and give the mistaken impression that good news isn’t news. We’re more interested in covering violence and murder, rape and incest, theft and crookedness than telling equally real stories about who we are and who we have doing what in the world. A St. Lucian has become the first woman on earth to become Chairman of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), but she hardly ever makes news.
A young entrepreneur whose whole life story is one of Productivity and Competitiveness par excellence is appointed to lead the nation’s bid to correct the uncomfortable truth about the strained historical relationship between wages and productivity, but he simply pops in and out of the headlines.
A Public Servant with all the qualifications for the job is selected to be St. Lucia’s first non-resident ambassador to two regional entities that can significantly change our lives, but what makes the news is him being shot down by a small local political party that gets more hits for published propaganda in the regional media than it can attract votes in a local ballot box.
After 23 years building St. Lucia’s biggest supermarket chain and becoming the President of one of America’s biggest supermarket conglomerates, a previously unknown Soufriere citizen is honoured by the Queen as he takes one step back from his desk to make another two steps forward and up the company ladder, but what we read and hear is that he’s given up the ball and kicked the company’s bucket.
I’ve long insulated—even immunized—myself against the daily disappointments that some seem to just love to bear and yet later complain about. I’ve long switched off on the local talk shows. This week, while searching for music on a car radio I heard Rick Wayne trying to explain something about our national housing blues; then I heard Double C telling Andre Paul that Arthur Charles’ wife does beat him at home if he talks too loud,” and then I heard God-fearing Andre telling CC that “no one on earth can prove that Jesus Christ ever existed.”
I read and watch and listen to all the discussion about Timothy Poleon and the RCI dilemma and ask myself: apart from Rick and Claudius Francis (neither of whom is a lawyer), is there anyone else among us media minions who can talk about libel laws and legal media matters? Can the media association do anything more to help Tim than offer him verbal support through solidarity visits and hardly reassuring statements?
Yes, I know that I’ve locked myself out of the real world of the New Global Social Media and IT age, but I still retain all of my sanity. And I know too that reading made me who I am—which is why the fact that so many of us in the media don’t seem to be reading is what makes me so really sad, so very mad!
Earl Bousquet is a veteran St. Lucia-born Caribbean journalist.